IELTS, TOEFL, CPE, CAE, they all have one thing in common: these collections of letters are an obstacle you need to overcome provided you are an international student and want to study at an English-speaking university. This can be nerve-racking, time-consuming and expensive. However, it is a requirement that is not disputable and questioning the exam itself does not get you anywhere, so the best thing to do is to accept it and try to make the best out of it. This article aims at helping you to do that.
Know the rules and play by them
When I attended an IELTS preparation summer course in England, I was told that my academic writing is way too academic for the Academic IELTS. Sound ironic, doesn't it? In fact, you are preparing for a certain testing system. Thus, knowing the rules is imperative. Obtain knowledge of the content of the four parts (listening, reading, writing, speaking), the different tasks to answer the questions, the topic areas (e.g., policy, the arts, education) and the assessment criteria (what the examiners are looking for).
To put it in a nutshell, you should entirely understand what you have to do and what the exam will look like. Only then can you prepare and study adequately. For that to happen, a few tips: firstly, there are loads of free tutorials and videos available online. Secondly, take IELTS mock exams; when you register for the IELTS you can enter an online learning portal and train under exam conditions.
Include English in your everyday life
As an example, read books and articles in English or watch the news. With respect to the news, not only will this probably improve your vocabulary, grammar and listening competencies, but it is also informative and provides you with arguments and examples for your speaking part when debating social phenomena and global issues. Moreover, it is possible that your speaking topic will focus on media and the news, like one question I had once: Describe a person in the news that you would like to meet (one minute preparation time for holding a two-minute monologue; ready, steady, go! And yes, in that very moment I wished I had watched the news more often).
There are no excuses. Even if you are tired and unmotivated to study, including English in your daily life can and most importantly should be fun, especially when you are considering studying abroad and using this language all day long in the near future. So do not think about it as preparation for an examination, like it is an unpleasant endeavour to do. Do things that are fun but do them in English. Watch videos, movies or series in English (it is very helpful to make notes and study the new terms and phrases afterwards), meet with a friend and pretend to be English or American tourists in your home town, chat with a cute English-speaking guy or girl online, maintain friendships in the form of writing or skyping with people you have met abroad, try to understand the lyrics of your favourite song and sing along – the possibilities are endless. You do not even need to be that creative, just do what you always do but start doing it in English.
What helped me the most
After reaching the point where I had learned the IELTS rules and had become used to English in my daily routines, I broke my IELTS preparation down to the following useful things. However, a good basis of grammar and vocabulary is needed first.
- Practise spelling! Especially when it comes to the listening part, spelling is essential. You will not get a point if you have a spelling mistake in your answer and even a few mistakes will cost you an entire level.
- Prepare your introduction and final sentences, linking words, phrases and common English proverbs. I cannot emphasise enough how important und useful they are to level up your writing score and save an awful lot of time that you can better use for proofreading. In the end, I was able to write and organise an essay in minutes.
To name a few examples of linking words: in addition; moreover; what is more; initially; simultaneously; a further problem to note is; this, however, does not alter the fact that; opponents / proponents of…may argue that; funnily enough; it is beyond dispute that; it is controversial; it goes without saying that; for the sake of completeness; to sum up; in retrospect it can be said; they are not mutually exclusive; I partially agree on…
- When it comes to part one of the writing section (description and analysis of statistics and charts), there is no getting around the need to learn the vocabulary by heart. The good thing is that this is something you can really prepare and is also worth preparing.
- Have a strategy for each part of the IELTS. For example, skim and underline key words at the listening part, only look for the topic sentence in each paragraph of the reading part (unless you are a fast reader it is not advisable to read the whole article) and try to find the reference to each question in the text, then read carefully. Do not waste valuable time in the exam thinking about what to do first, you can already prepare that before your exam.
I wish you the best of luck for your Academic IELTS!